woman and nature

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woman is to nature what man is to culture

daya dissanayake

The thought that 'Women is to Nature what Man is to Culture', was mentioned by Vandana Shukla, writer, poet and journalist from Chandigarh, at the 2012 SAARC Literary Festival. She was participating in a panel discussion on Environment and Fine Arts.

This is a universal truth, which unfortunately had been hijacked, distorted and misinterpreted by the male dominated society. In the same manner that the women of the subcontinent confined themselves within their own boundary, the Lakshman Rekha, some women too accepted the male idea that woman is close to nature because of her secondary, subordinate role, in family, society and development.

Sherry B. Ortner in her article 'Is Female to Maleas Nature is to Culture', is trying to open "as much of the human range of potential to women as is open to men". But this potential has always been open to women, and all they have to do is recognize it. She too had fallen into the trap in trying to interpret primitive or early human society based on the present day tribal societies and the meagre archaeological evidence available.

We try to define 'culture' as a "product of human consciousness, by means of which humanity attempts to assert control over nature".

This is where man is responsible for all destruction of our environment, with every attempt at trying to control nature, in the name of culture and development. Men talk of "sustainable development", which is a contradiction of terms, which men are not prepared to accept, if we mean 'development' of material culture. Only sustainable development possible is in mental and social development, in the development of human values and loving kindness for all living things.

The concept that culture is superior to nature is a belief among mankind in the same manner as their belief that man is superior to woman. No human development, progress or technical achievement could ever surpass nature. Nature keeps on reminding mankind of this fact, throughout history. Nature and Mother Earth suffer all indignities and destruction in the same way most women suffer in silence, but when nature decides to hit back, it is to leave a lasting memory on man. It happened in Atlantis, Sodom and Gommorah, and more recently, the floods in China and Thailand, and hurricane Irene in Northeastern USA , just reminding us that all technology is at the mercy of natural forces.

The only acceptable reasoning is that woman is closer to nature because of her procreative and nursing powers, which are lacking in man. Thus man is the inferior animal, distant from nature.

It is a distortion of facts to say that woman is doomed to mere reproduction of life, while man has to assert his creativity externally. It is a misconception that "man creates relatively lasting, eternal transcendent objects, while the woman creates only perishables - human beings." Nothing man ever made is lasting or eternal. They are all perishable, while creation of human beings ensures the continuity of the human race. Man is also inferior because for everything he creates, he destroys some part of nature.

A woman feels motherly love which a man could not feel. Man is not as sensitive. he believes in aggression, always ready to use his hands and any weapons he can get hold of. He thinks it is too womanly to to be sensitive towards nature and all things beautiful. When he sees something beautiful he wants to possess it. And in possession, to destroy it. When he sees a beautiful flower or a beautiful woman he wants to pluck it. He wants to preserve the lovely butterfly, to spread the leopard skin in his sitting room.

Feminists talk of 'Man over Woman', and environmentalists of 'Culture over Nature', the result of which was Ecofeminism. All these isms and concepts only try to hide the true problem, 'Inequality'. Is not all men who dominate all women, or dominate and destroy nature. It is only a few men and a few women, who are 'more equal', who have the money and power, who exploit all other men who are less equal, and all women and all nature. It is the same 'more equal' men and women, who infect the minds of all others with the viruses named feminism, ecofeminism and all such isms, to draw their attention away from the real threat.

Murray Bookchin wrote in 'The Philosophy of Social Ecology', ".....the present ecological crisis has its roots in human social problems, and that the domination of human-over-nature stems from the domination of human-over-human". It is this human-over-human domination which has to be eliminated. Then the struggle should be for 'Humanism' and not feminism.

If we are to go all the way, to really save nature, then we should follow ecoanarchism, or ecoprimitivism. Then we should reread Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden', with an ecological view on anarchism. The Ecovillage is not a new concept. The small settlements dating back to about 3000 years, which have been discovered in the Haldummulla area were real ecovillages, within Robert Gilman's definition, "human-scale full-featured settlements in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development, and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future".

In such an ecovillage, living in perfect harmony with nature, there would not have been a duality of man-woman or nature-culture. The woman would have played the major role in food gathering and caring for the family. She would not have intentionally caused any harm to the eco-system. Even man would not have caused much harm because they lived in a culture where small was really beautiful and they would not have had any mega-visions.

These families would have been mostly vegetarian, and they could have lived happily even if man did not bring in an occasional carcass of an innocent animal for its decaying flesh. That would also have made the woman more independent in feeding her children. When such communities began to grow a few plants for food, it would have been real agri-culture, within their sustainable culture. It is only when man with his eternal greed, went into agri-business, that he began his war against nature.

If we are to have sustainable development, it could be possible to some extent in a modern day ecovillage, but never in a mega city. It can never be a part of an urban community, which cannot survive without asphalt, concrete, steel and plastic, and without burning fossil fuels. Such an eco-village would be like the myth of ecotourism, which is a more subtle and more expensive way of destroying nature. By trying to mimic nature we are only trying to fool ourselves, or fool the citizen and the consumer.

There is no need to mimic nature, if we can learn to accept and appreciate nature as it is. This is where the woman could play a major role, because she has always remained closer to nature. She could begin with going for the natural look, instead of giving into the cosmetics manufacturers and clothes designers, mud therapy and silicone implants. By trying to be more 'feminine' woman is allowing man to dominate her, place her in a subordinate role. Woman is the only female animal who tries to impress the male of the species, while with almost all other animals, it is the male who has to impress and attract the female.

Not only in an ecovillage, but even in a megacity a woman can be really independent, she could live and take care of the children without any dependence on a male. She can step out of the Lakshman Rekha. She does not need a feminist movement for that. Then she can get mankind to live closer and in harmony with nature, without any conflict of nature and culture.

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